Late night questions and night cap answers

I think we should wrap it up, it’s gotten late, so I just want add some thoughts to your question about rubrics and add a few of my own.

By what rubrics or categories are grants distributed? This can often seem mystifying to applicants. I work at a non-profit myself and we also have to raise money in order to run our programs, so I understand this issue well.

A few practical thoughts: I think granting organizations can do more to clarify the criteria by which they select grantees. Also offer feedback, etc, things I’ve mentioned previously. Categories should be reviewed carefully and regularly to make sure they are not divorced from the work they are intended to fund. Also, the granting categories should allow the grantee to still do his/her own work and not take over the project.

On the side of the applicant: I think in some cases applicants have to learn to be more accepting of the decisions made by the organization—accept that their proposal/work might simply not have fit the criteria of the organization they applied to.

It is always important to not only look for blame in others but also to check in with yourself—this applies to both applicants and to granting organization. As I started out saying, it is important to respect the other party. And for that matter: to respect yourself. Going back to charity vs. investment, to understand grant giving as an investment and not as charity is also a matter of self-respect. And part of that is being self-critical.

Some questions of mine to end with:

I think there is room to approach the question of granting categories more generally: What philosophical thought is our kind of granting system based on? Are there maybe entirely different categories by which to judge? Who should be setting them up? Is there an entirely different way distribution can function? How is value determined/created in the existing system?

I am also kind of disappointed that we were (or at least I was) not able to leave the dichotomy of granter/grantee. As “joint enterprise” implies, there exists a longing to move beyond this form of separation. But I don’t know if it is possible within the system that we are operating in. Is it? Maybe this is where our conversation should have started.

And finally and because I am bit tipsy from that night cap and am feeling clairvoyant:

Maybe this all doesn’t need to be taken apart as much I just did. Maybe the structure is fine as it is. Maybe a bit of chance and mystification is okay. (Sure artists can’t rely on arts granting for financial support alone, other forms are needed as we mentioned earlier in the evening.) But just as all kinds of arts making are part and parcel of culture as a whole, so maybe are all kinds of grant making part of the equation. Some work for you, some don’t.

Maybe the “dichotomy” is actually a great way to divvy up the work at hand and lets us all do what we are best at and get on with it. As much as artists don’t appreciate granters meddling in the affairs, there might also be some truth to it in the reverse.

As my colleague at Artadia, who is also an artist, put it: What’s really the problem?

So with this I’d like to say goodnight, it’s been great wining and dining with you, Theaster, and with all of you who have read along and participated.


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Still Hungry

Ute, these are great points. I think you are helping me sort through issues of assessment and value. I believe that the motivations of selection are with the best intentions and that the rubrics created are about insuring the best outcomes of that particular rubric. I believe the conversation I’m having in my head is about the rubric. I am interested in turning back to the responsibility of the artist.

At the outset of our conversation, I suggested that artists should not only apply to grants and dream big, artists have the burden of digging deep to try to understand the methods of grant evaluation, relationship development and investigating other revenue streams. I want so bad to hear from both artists who have been on both sides of this issue and folk outside of this conversation. I will reach out to friends to see if we can generate more conversation on this topic. I have to get on a plane, so I’m rushing from the dinner table. Thanks for such thoughtful responses. You are making me a believer… something.

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Power dynamics, for dessert.

Thanks, Theaster.

It’s funny, our dinner conversation has turned into little crafted monologues between long pauses. I find myself waiting to speak until I have thought every through as best I can. I guess that is the result of the blog format.

But regarding your question–after some thought and a few cigarettes: I think arts granting is never charity but always investment, similar to a business investment where you hope for return, in the case of arts granting not personal financial gain but cultural gain for all. Arts granting organizations believe that cultural vitality is as important as financial prosperity. And just like a business investor you want to make sure the money is well invested.

That said: All arts organizations operate between two poles of funding criteria: on the one side the intention of easing need and on the other side the intention of awarding merit entirely independent of need. In between all variations of supporting promise and potential. And all these always intermingle.

But different from the example you gave, arts granters specifically don’t give money to people they don’t trust but to people or projects where they see valid need/promise/potential/quality. So when arts granters specify what the funds they provide can be used for it is because they have been convinced by a project/work, not because they worry the artist won’t spend the money wisely. Art organizations realize that unlike in the business world (and maybe there not either as well) good work is not always automatically rewarded with financial stability, so they work to bridge that gap.

I think the discussion of funders/granting organizations being patronizing is a valid one in other areas, but I fully, yet carefully, believe this is not an issue within arts funding, let me add organizational arts funding as I have experienced it.

The question for me, and it seems one for you too, is if funders are always correct/realistic in their assessment of worthy work. Also, if funders in some cases ask a project to do too many things or solve too many problems. I think asking artists to solve (generally societal) problems per se is, well, problematic.

Artists make art, very different kinds of art, that address very different, and all valid issues. The art making itself, not which kind, is where the value in art making lies for society.

But it is the funder who determines the parameters under which the funds are distributed. And it is the funder, or the selection committees appointed by the funder, who decides whom the funds are given to.

So the impression arises that the funder is the one establishing value.

Okay, over to you. I think I might be talking in circles, or worse, preaching to the converted. Plus my glass is empty. I am going to get another bottle of wine.

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On Charity vs. Investment

Ute, we have been responsible to say the least in using this slow building format that allows us a seemingly neutral place on the matter or funding relationships but I think it would be irresponsible if we didn’t spend a little bit of time on some of the complicated messy stuff. This is what the dinner table is for, after all!

I would like to engage you then Ute, in a conversation about the difference between charity and investment. An issue that has come up recently when a person was suggesting that there is a way to steward those who are without certain means and maybe they should not be given money directly. That they should be given services or materials instead, implying that their stewardship could not handle the responsibility of a cash gift. His tone was that of god! It really struck a chord because I sometimes think that funders assume a certain amount of responsibility over how well their gifts will be used and feel they have to make judgement calls about how significant their impact will be. Sometimes, the desire to have small dollars do huge things is enough to keep some artists from winning awards because their practices are not that way. But I am also talking about the culture of determinism and how those judging the character of an artist’s profile and work can be so potentially different from the makers. The basic questions are how do we determine the value of a philanthropic gesture- what does the money (or other resources) have to do? Who deserves these resources and by what rubric?

Do you have any thoughts on this stuff. I am attempting to avoid a rant and will have clearer thoughts in a couple hours. I could also use some outside help on this one.

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Dinner’s ready, sorry it took a bit longer

Thanks Theaster for those recommendations to artists. I ‘d like to do the same for grant givers.

First off though two warnings about my list:

1. It reflects my personal preferences and the experience gathered from knowing and funding individual artists alone. While I think they are all good recommendations, there are many other formats by which to fund artists that are also viable. I think the more different kinds of grant opportunities out there the better.

2. We also need to differentiate between two kinds of shared enterprise: funding individual artists and funding institutional (or individual) projects that are intended to benefit others. The shared enterprise for both stems from the shared belief in the importance of the arts for our society, the need of the arts to make our world livable, lovable. When funding individual artists and their work though, granters simply and straight-forwardly support the artist in doing what they do. When it comes to funding institutions or individuals with programs that are meant to support/benefit others, a lot more responsibility and accountability is needed, and sometimes joint planning. In this latter case, it might not be feasible to follow all recommendations I give below.

So when supporting individual artists I recommend to:

Be open
Next to the obvious need for openness to the work and the artists applying, I also recommend an open granting structure, most importantly open application calls, not nomination. I am sure there is a place for nomination processes, but if you want to make sure all artists have a chance of winning your grant, you need an open call–if feasible at no charge.

Keep it simple
I think keeping the mission of an institution as simple as possible will reflect in the applications received. If the language of the institution is to the point, the materials that are submitted by the artists will be as well. Artists write grant proposals in order to get selected, thus they try as best they can to customize their application to fit the “field of interest” of the institution. If the area of funding is very narrow and convoluted, the applications will be too.

Simple application materials also reduce the time spent on them and the anxiety involved. While I think that, as Theaster already mentioned, writing (or rewriting) your artist statement or a project proposal is a great way of gathering and clarifying your own thoughts about your work, that alone should be the goal with a grant proposal.

Be willing to fail
When selecting grantees, con’t put your money with save bets, only. There is no advancement/discovery—by definition—if you only proceed on already charted paths. Give money to the risky, outlandish projects, artists without arts degrees, artists who have never shown before. Look for promise, courage, vision.

Defer judgment to others
Artadia selects a new group of jurors for every awards cycle. There is a big advantage to this on many levels. We are continually engaging new curators in learning about new artists and—given Artadia’s mission—from an area of the US that might be new to them. Vice versa, the artists always get their work seen by a new group of acclaimed jurors giving them crucial exposure. This makes reapplying much more attractive as well.

Also, the role of the program officer/manager thereby is separated from the role of the judger. The program officer is “only” the transmitter of good and bad news and can therefore build a less charged relationship with both the artists that win the award and those that don’t.

Build a relationship with your grantees
A granting organization can ideally become the perfect go-to place for artists seeking professional, confidential, and neutral advice on all kinds of arts-related issues. This is because granters have only the best intentions in mind for the artists they support and have no ulterior motives or are overwhelmed by requests like others in the field can often be. At the same time, granters know all areas and people of the arts world well, and can thus be a terrific source of information.

At Artadia all Awards winners become part of the Artadia family (or posse, as our founder likes to say) forever. My colleagues and I are always available for meetings by phone and in person. Between the three of us, and our board and our national network, we can help with all kinds of matters. From advice on the look of a portfolio or a website, to advice on troubles with a gallerist. We know about grant opportunities, and as a neutral, third party, we can also facilitate introductions to gallerists, curators, and other arts professionals.

Give advice—when it is asked for
That said, no one likes unsolicited advice. (This is one of the most memorable things my dad taught me, and which of course, being a dad, he does not follow at all.) But grant givers aren’t parents. They can give advice, but only successfully when asked. At Artadia we always offer to give feedback to all applicants, independent of if they are selected as an awardee or not. And when applicants and awardees ask for it, we make a phone date, review the application again with our colleagues, get feedback from the panelists if available, and then share those thoughts with the artists. The result is always positive, because it is a frank conversation initiated by the person whose work is being discussed.

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Feasting Time Yet?

Thanks everybody for chiming in.

I agree Ute; it is nice to simply get a check in the mail. More of those please! I also think that its important that we reflect on why we are being successful and not successful; what worked for others and whether or not those are interesting models and telling of the kind of work that is compelling to a particular funder. We have to do our homework alongside the performances and theater productions we produced and the objects we make. The grant writing process has actually helped me tremendously in figuring out just what I’m talking about.

As our guests were arriving, I am afraid that my personal interest in capitalism and your interest and history with forms of socialism may side step some more immediate reflections on how to be more successful as grantors and artists. Let’s go back a bit. It is now time to talk about relationships and I will share a few items I have observed over the last several years between “the funded” and “those who fund.” I fear being too general, but there are a couple of axioms that seem really helpful on the artist side. Please pardon my “8 solutions to getting grants” approach but because I fail to receive yeses regularly, one can take my 8 steps of peer advice with a grain of salt. This is also probably geared more toward the emerging and post emerging as I recently heard someone say.

Often, this eliminates 50% of the competition. If you don’t apply you definitely will not receive an award. For all of the people who know of more popular grants, funders must be relieved that not everyone applies who is qualified and knows about it. Applying is a practice. If treated as part of your creative experience, the writing will get better and your projects will have a better chance of being funded.

I have seen several kinds of both artist and organizational models. The ones that are most effective are the models where people feel not only that they have a relationship with their program officers or funding bodies, but also that the projects are worthy projects to be funded. Applications that show a parts of an artist’s personality, clear interests, professional ability and knowledge of their work’s relationship to the grant being considered will bode well. Its a lot to take in, but funders seem to talk often about what’s in their mission, how an artist exemplifies the ambition of the philanthropic organization’s mission. Research and relationship building are key factors to this idea of an empowered artistic project.

I am not the best writer and I have more ideas than time to clearly articulate them on paper, I’ve learned that its really important for me to slow down while writing and spend time after writing a first draft that, re-reading, editing and being as clear and concise as possible at all times. Which leads to my next point.

If time permits, I try to let others look at what I’ve written. When they return with areas of my proposal that doesn’t makes sense, chances are it will not make sense to others reviewing my ideas. Sometimes, you can even run creative ideas past the funders you are seeking funding from. When there are workshops, use your projects as the examples. Make them remember you.

Often, organizations are down to share feedback. I have learned that there is often someone in a room with jurors writing notes and for some of the more established funding bodies, those notes can be requested. If you feel like you had the most solid project and it wasn’t funded, call them up and ask why. Even if you won and want to know what worked finally, it’s worth a call. Remember that program officers are busy, but they are employed to think a lot about us!


Not all of us are interested in maintaining full time employment and find extremely creative ways to make ends meet. A couple times in my artistic career, I have tried to bank on getting an award and usually, it didn’t work in my favor, leaving me with more discontent and a little hard on myself. I think expecting to write well, deliver good ideas and dreaming of success are all important things, but we should be careful not to not expect the existing governmental and institutional structures to completely shelter us financially. Getting grants is a great feeling and really helps to push artist’s opportunities and visibility in the cultural world, but they are gifts. I also wish there were even more structures to support local art and artists and I am hopeful that there will be soon, but in the meantime, diversify your hustle, live simple (I am not the one to talk about this), and work your ass off!

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Thanks, Theaster, and thank you, commentators!

I’m sure you know the old joke that if you want to speak about art go out to dinner with bankers, and if you want to speak about money go out with artists.

I absolutely agree that an important service to artists is financial advice, education. Artadia is actually just in the midst of developing a professional services program (beyond the individual consulting on career matters we do now), and financial advice will definitely be an important component. It is something our founder and president Chris Vroom has always very much pushed for. We just did a survey of what artists would be looking for in professional services and, while not among the top three priorities, financial advice was among the top ten concerns.

I think building a financial strategy with an expert one-on-one based on the individual’s situation would be the ideal way to go. And I think the strategy for artists could (but wouldn’t have to) be different, more entrepreneurial. Something that makes use of artists’ courage, their flexibility, their often multiple forms of income and expenses, the time frames they think in. I think (hope) financial experts, those with the endowments, must be creative thinkers, and thus would be able to find creative solutions for artists’ situations. Also, I think simply artists talking and learning from each other is not to be undervalued.

One component is often real estate as Jim pointed out. I’ve always found it absurd that artists get pushed out of neighborhoods they made popular through their presence there. It’s always seemed that that didn’t make any sense at all if it were any other branch of business. So this would be a fruitful place to start thinking creatively. There are a number of artists that buy early and then can stay or make a good profit by subletting etc., (even in Soho) but ideally there would be more solutions. The new “loft law” in New York (which took I believe 20 years to get passed) finally gives people living in loft buildings the same protection and rights as in other residential spaces.

This points to another angle from which to change artist’s financial situations: governmental regulations, initiatives. (Yes, I’m German…)

E.g. Health care. Germany has health insurance specifically for creative professionals, where the amount you pay is dependent on how much you earn, and the state covers half, as is normal in any employee situation. There is a large campaign for reforming health care for artists currently being initiated in Massachusetts.

Both are part of an effort to make artists a regular part of the economy just like all other people with other professions.

Also, the current gallery system might be in need of a reform. Artist-run spaces are an alternative that has been around for a long time. Modifying museum and exhibitions structures would also be a place to investigate I think: standardizing artists fees, etc. I wondered if an art sales tax might be a possibility. Just like the hotel tax that goes to the arts. A sales tax on all art sales that is then distributed evenly among all artists (gosh, now I am starting to sound really German.) Okay, here I go: Unions!!! What about Unions??? Other creative professions have them, why not visual artists?

I am sure that many initiatives like these are already in place or being worked on that I am not (yet) aware of. And I know that there are many more out there. As Artadia develops its artist services we will definitely make sure to know of all, if possible, and share our knowledge.

But aside from all of this and to finish, I do think one should not undervalue in the simple check in the mail, that helps finish a film, or make the whole film, that lets you take a sabbatical or pays a months rent—that simply buys time to make work. Because the investment in the artist’s own work is a real, and I think still the most important investment and one that hopefully will pay off (be this through sales, invitations to shows, residencies, teaching positions, etc.) This is of course is not guaranteed, but no investment is.

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Our Guests Are Arriving


Aretha was a nice touch. While I rarely play the role of the victim, it IS easy to criminalize funders, partly because young, emerging and even some professional artists have such a complex relationship to money and people with it. These two worlds that often seem very far from each other; the world of the philanthropist or the philanthropic steward and that of the maker. Often the maker’s world feels like one where creativity is key above all and those with wealth seem to have a primary mission of money above all. I am starting to understand that the nature of people, organizations and systemic structures are so much more complicated. As a result, it is very important that folk talk to each other about personal mission, organizational mission and sometimes, personality stuff. Since our guests are arriving, metaphorically and hopefully, some respondents will jump in, I want to begin to take the conversation toward deeper waters and encourage both the funding community and the arts community to engage in the deeper end with us.

Artists are often less concern with resources than the entrepreneurs who have amassed wealth and are in position to support new works. I think one of the gaps that I see in the funding market is that funders don’t talk with artists about how to become wealthy! It’s a constant handing of fish instead of teaching. Its always interesting to me when organizations create endowments as a way to maintain their institutions. I am shocked that more individuals artists haven’t found creative ways to dive into this and other economic strategies as a way of using the existing system to sustain a practice. I wish an organization would give artists the tools to think more effectively about money. Its been fun to watch friends win awards, but so often, the resources simply help us get through the next 3 months or year. Could be interesting if the resources also came with a little bit of financial advice. The grant is great, but the financial skill of the philanthropist who has the money to give away is also tremendous. I guess I am suggesting that artists need more than your money and wants to give more than “kisses” and “propas”. Maybe the respect comes from deep sharing of resources. A deeper relationship than pay for play.

I will research structures that help artists make better use of the grants that we get.
Thinking more about what other things I need besides money is super important in this kind of relationship.
I am interested in alternative funding sources that allow me to be a successful maker.
More Aretha.

Ute, as guests will be coming in soon, I am curious as to what would you like to see more of from artists when they apply to Artadia? Can you talk a little bit about your selection processes, how they morph over time and with different personalities of juries-

I am curious about your processes.

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All I’m askin’


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Shopping List

Sincerity (hard to find)
Expertise (might have to be replaced)
Good work
Mission (only the fresh kind)
Consistency (may not need that)
Approachability (only the organic kind)

Am I forgetting something?

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